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Last updated: 04.01.14

Female Genital Mutilation: The UK's hidden crime?

This week saw the announcement of the first two prosecutions for female genital mutilation in the UK, even though it has been a criminal offence since 1985. In comparison, the French authorities have secured over 100 convictions.

A recent report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists estimated that a staggering 23,000 British girls are at risk of being cut every year. Practised as a cultural ritual in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities, FGM can be life threatening and leaves young victims with physical and psychological scars.

Common dangers include; severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and increased risk of death for newborns. (Read Leyla Hussein?s story - Day of the Girl: A survivor?s journey after female genital mutilation)

Campaigners say there is a lack of knowledge about how prevalent the practice is, where it is happening and that this is hampering social services and the police in the collection of evidence.

Comfort Momoh, who runs the African Women?s Health Centre at Guy?s Hospital in London recently said ?We have people migrating from different parts of the world coming to the UK, to the West, bringing their cultures, bringing their own traditions, so it is a growing problem ? Frontline professionals need to educate themselves to enable them to spot the warning signs and ultimately know what to do and how to safeguard children and girls from this practice.?

The Department for Education has announced that the guidance for schools is being redrafted to ensure it was “clearer, simpler, and directs schools to the latest expert advice on issues such as FGM.
Nonetheless, as Western awareness of female genital cutting has grown, anthropologists, policy makers and health officials have warned against blindly judging those who practice it.

Some think progress is best made by working with local leaders and opinion-makers to gradually shift the public discussion of female circumcision from what it?s believed to bestow upon a girl toward what it takes away.

Laura Guarenti, an obstetrician and WHO?s medical officer for child and maternal health in Jakarta said ?These mothers believe they are doing something good for their children, for their culture that is not easily understandable. To judge them harshly is to isolate them. You cannot make change that way.?

However, Department of Education is clear ?Female genital mutilation is unacceptable. It is child abuse and a criminal offence. It is an issue that schools should take very seriously. If a school is concerned that a pupil may be about to undergo FGM or may have been subject to it, they should contact their local authority safeguarding team immediately.?

Read more:

BBC ethics guide: Female circumcision

FGM: UK’s first female genital mutilation prosecutions announced

Wikipedia: Female genital mutilation

New York Times: A Cutting Tradition